SHAPIRO: Living the American dream

Burning ambition and private charity trump affirmative action

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Zachary Wood can’t wait to start college.

The 18-year-old high school graduate is so anxious to get back into the classroom that he’s foregoing his summer vacation to enter the university system early.

The black native of the Anacostia section of Washington, D.C., recently graduated from high school with a stunning 5.25 grade-point average, and although he received invitations from several Ivy League schools to attend their summer programs, none of them offered him any financial assistance despite his impressive academic achievements, hardship background or minority-student status.

Zach didn’t have the $19,000 that Yale University required to attend its summer writer’s conference or the $14,000 that Stanford required to enter its program, either. He didn’t even have the $3,000 that Brown required to attend its 8-week summer session.

That didn’t stop him, though.

“I didn’t have the money I needed to attend because of the school’s financial policies,” he told me during an interview. “The only reason I can attend now is because I set up a fundraising page online.”

After a successful media campaign, he raised more than $13,000.

Prominent art patron and George Washington University desegregation champion Peggy Cooper Cafritz was moved by Zach’s story when she heard about it and donated enough to cover his summer tuition at Stanford.

Like Ms. Cafritz, Zach’s passion for learning impressed me, and his story intrigued me.

I found it ironic that many of the same schools that promote affirmative-action policies within their social science departments apparently didn’t think it was worthwhile to award him a scholarship on the basis of his minority status, hardship background or noteworthy academic achievement.

Zach probably thought I was taking notes on my MacBook the whole time he was talking with me, but I was also Google-searching the many economists, political scientists and sociologists that he was talking about so I could keep up with him.

A regular subscriber to the writings of economist Jeffrey Sachs, Zach wanted to make sure that I understood that his top two influences were Ralph Waldo Emerson, a poet who led the Transcendentalist movement of self-reliance, and conversely, Cornel West, a prominent thinker in the American socialist movement.

“I definitely see myself as a Democrat, a neoliberal taking many of the same political stances as [President] Obama, but I have some different views when it comes to fiscal policy,” he explained. “I think that [Mitt] Romney had some good ideas, and that Newt Gingrich made some good points in his new book.”

To my surprise, he’d even read several of my own Washington Times commentaries in preparation for his interview.

“Who is that?” he asked curiously as he pointed to a framed photograph of an austere looking man behind my desk.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Scott Shapiro

Jeffrey Scott Shapiro

Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is a nationally recognized investigative journalist and a former Washington, D.C., prosecutor. He is currently general counsel for MDB International, a D.C.-based international investigations firm, and a legal analyst for The Washington Times. He can be reached at

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